The Mind Behind America's Most Empathetic Cartoon
Animator, director, screenwriter, producer, songwriter — Rebecca Sugar is a true Renaissance woman.
The 30-year-old Maryland native is the force behind “Steven Universe,” the first Cartoon Network show created independently by a woman. The show is now in its fifth season and has become something of an empire.
“Steven Universe” is set in the fictional town of Beach City, which is populated by gem-powered superheroes. While it may appear to be pure fantasy, it’s actually an ode to people and places from Sugar’s own life, peppered with musical numbers. The protagonist, Steven, is modeled after her own brother (also named Steven), who’s a background artist on the show.
Sugar told The Washington Post:
I realized, while working on the show, that it’s not what I thought it was going to be about. It’s about how much I needed emotional support in high school — just with little things, going through tough times, high school teen angst.
In turn, that’s what Sugar provides for her viewers: emotional support. “Steven Universe” has been lauded for its emotional richness, as well as its representations of queerness. Just this week, a new episode showed a marriage proposal between two women. Sugar identifies as bisexual, and the show has become a lifeline for LGBTQ children and adults. Many of her fans affectionately call her “Sugar Mama.”
Sugar reflected on the show’s unexpected success and impact in an interview with Rolling Stone:
I thought that it would resonate like a secret message, not something that so many people had been waiting to hear.
When people come to me and feel that too, I get it, I feel the same way. It’s this feeling of, ‘You found me, and I found you. We found each other.’ There was just no way to put a signal out to say, ‘Here I am.’ And now we’ve found each other.
Rebecca Sugar, Creator, “Steven Universe”; @rebeccasugar
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